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2018 Conference Highlights

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Disrupting Silos, Connecting Conversations, Creating Impact

Representatives of funding organizations from Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States attended the Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG) 2018 Annual Conference in April. Discussion focused on approaches to leveraging philanthropy to benefit African communities and building closer ties between those working in philanthropy based inside and outside of Africa. Topics ranged from immigration policy to improving collaboration. Throughout, participants were encouraged to disrupt the silo approach and examine how their operations fit within a broader philanthropic context and funding landscape.

Review the conference agenda and list of speakers.

Navigating Grantmaking Relationships

During the opening session on day one, Vuyiswa Sidzumo of the Ford Foundation office in South Africa and E. J. Jacobs of the Nduna Foundation brought up the challenges and rewards of grantmaking relationships. Sidzumo discussed the issues raised in her blog post, “The Dilemmas, Contradictions, and Excitements of a Foundation Program Officer,” which was prompted by the results of a survey of Ford Foundation grantees. Jacobs introduced his new book, The Conversation: Candid Perspectives and Advice on Fundraising Shared by Donor and Nonprofits, sharing examples of how both funders and their grantee partners fail to communicate effectively with each other. The exchange set the stage for an exercise that brought participants together by encouraging them to share their relationship-building experiences.

A number of insights emerged, including a shortlist of dos and don’ts for funders:

  • Don’t take a “template approach” to relationships and avoid the mentality of an easy fix.
  • Do communicate clearly about your funding goals and how you see your role in a relationship.
  • Don’t assume all organizations want or need the same level and type of interaction with their program officer.
  • Do pay attention to generational differences in leadership and operational styles.
  • Don’t underestimate the limitations of your own bandwidth and capacity as a funder to provide the expertise organizations need.
  • Do serve as a translator to help grantee partners understand your funding organization to avoid surprises about shifts in funding or expectations.

Impact of U.S. Immigration policy on African communities

In this session, Amaha Kassa of African Communities Together discussed the impact of policy changes on the African immigrant community.

Kassa described the diverse profile of the African immigrant community in the United States and broached common stereotypes. Of an estimated 2.1 million African immigrants, the majority come from sub-Saharan Africa and are concentrated in New York, Washington, DC, Houston and Chicago. While some have obtained legal status through the diversity visa lottery (about 40% of those admissions are from Africa) others have entered with visas or are asylum seekers such as women who are survivors of female genital mutilation.

Those with Deferred Enforced Departure and Temporary Protected Status are allowed to stay in the country and work, but they only have temporary status (they are not allowed a green card) and have no prospects of gaining permanent status. Current U.S. policies have burned pathways to legal immigration, including efforts to dismantle the diversity visa, which remains a key pathway for African immigrants.

As Kassa highlighted, although their legal status issues vary, economic marginalization is a common issue for nearly all African immigrants. Despite having higher levels of education in comparison to other immigrant groups, they reap lower economic returns from the degrees they hold. They tend to be the eldest of their siblings and hold a higher status in their home country. However, they also come with high expectations from their family for remittances and potential migration for other family members. When they can’t meet those expectations, it is hard for them to return home.

In response to the perception that African communities are unorganized, Kassa pointed to an impressive number of community members who mobilize and volunteer through their local mosques, churches, radio stations and mutual associations.

“The U.S. lumps us into one community where we share a certain fate across ethnicity,” said Kassa. “But in terms of our numbers and our power, it’s the women who braid hair, the cab drivers, and people who deliver your fast food who are the majority. We have common bonds in our experience and that is the basis for building community and building power.”

On the diminishing pathways to legal status, Kassa cited Trump’s pre-election singling out Somali refugees as a threat to safety prior to as a foreshadowing of the current landscape. The number of refugee resettlements has been cut from 100,000 to less than 10,000 and a mere quarter of those are for African refugees. Meanwhile, deportations have increased and the derogatory language used to describe African countries continues to flame a hostile and anti-immigrant environment.

Kassa cautioned against inaction in favor of waiting for the current administration’s term to end. For example, transforming World Refugee Day from a day of heart-warming stories into one of protest would demonstrate the power, presence and contribution of African immigrants, and reveal potential allies in the process.

International funders tend to relate to the African diaspora as a source of funds and technical assistance for the development of Africa. It should also be noted that building a better Africa includes empowering the African diaspora. “The cash cow (of the [African] diaspora) needs to be watered and fed, and not just milked,” noted Kassa. “We have to do more to enable African immigrants to vote and to empower the diaspora on Africa-oriented policy. And countries of origin need to think about the brain drain and how to incorporate the diaspora back into their development strategies.”

To learn more about the African immigrant community see the New American Economy research report, Power of the Purse: How Sub-Saharan Africans Contribute to the U.S. Economy.